Students and educators around the world know that contract cheating is a growing reality on our modern campuses. Sometimes known as ghostwriting, contract cheating is when individuals engage a third-party or service to complete their assignment or exam. At high schools and universities worldwide, students can log onto a variety of essay mill sites, offer exact details on the nuances of their assignment (including the number of pages and citations required) and the due date, then receive a guarantee that the paper will arrive on time once payment is confirmed.
Daphne Taras, the Dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, addresses the severity of contract cheating in her recent article, emphasizing that “this is a serious industry that operates in the shadows, and it is a threat to our own industry of advanced education.” As the grim implications of contract cheating on campuses worldwide increase, it is essential for students and educators alike to understand the practices that make these industries thrive and what they can do to combat them.
Here are three ways essay mills make it easy to buy an essay online:
1. Reaching students at the right time: Essay mills understand that students feel the greatest pressure at the middle and end of their semesters. These businesses have learned that a student with a looming deadline is more likely to succumb to the temptation of contract cheating than one at the beginning of a term. Essay writing businesses target students with advertising and discounts on a specific schedule, often with a countdown clock that reminds students of a term’s impending end. Vulnerable individuals at the end of a stressful semester are likely to receive a well-timed email or pop-up ad to order a paper “just in time”.
Recently, the BBC discovered that prominent YouTube stars were encouraging students to purchase essays from online businesses on their channels. Essay mills have also started crafting entire networks of potential essay sites (or “client sites”) to give students the sense that they are shopping for the best match when really there is one master essay business at the core. Cath Ellis, the Associate Dean of Education in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UNSW, Sydney, has conducted extensive research in the area of contract cheating and discovered that “several of these ‘client sites’ were connected together into one business. This gives potential clients an illusion of choice while maximizing market share for the academic custom writing business.”
2. Offering a “professional” and personalized experience: The overall interaction between students and essay mills often feels like a business transaction. These businesses strive to provide a “professional” experience for students in place of a nefarious one, which helps to eliminate any lingering student anxiety. Daphne Taras, from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, experienced the savviness of the essay-writing business firsthand.
Using a false student name, Taras explored what it meant to be a student purchasing an essay online for a higher education class. During her experience, she received an actual telephone call from the business itself. The person on the other end of the line assured Taras that “they are a legitimate service, and capable of doing the work that is required”. Just days after confirming her order, she noticed that her credit card statement had a different, benign name of the business in the statement. No red flags would be raised by a parent reviewing their student’s credit card bills, which would ensure that the business transaction between the student and the essay mill remained private.
Some essay mill sites have even gone as far as to post the logos of top universities in their region without permission, claiming that “students from these institutions buy their essays from us!” This misleading personalization is meant to create the connection essay businesses need with students to make their sale.
3. Following up with perseverance: Essay mills earn money by attracting loyal customers. The more they can develop an ongoing relationship with students worldwide, the more essays they are able to peddle. By personalizing the experience and relentlessly following up, they can often guarantee repeat customers.
After a student purchases one essay and the business has their contact information, an essay mill will often check in with that student at key points during the academic school year. They might offer discount codes for new orders, coupled with light-hearted graphics. Susceptible students in the throes of mid-term madness might be cheered by a colorful image, promising to resolve their woes.
In the end, essay mills have learned to meet the very particular, seasonal needs of students and have seamlessly adapted to new technologies, reaching potential and repeat customers through online advertising, emails, and even phone calls. It’s clear that students and educators alike need to understand the strategies that have helped this industry to grow and continue to find ways to fight back against the threat that is contract cheating.
Want to address contract cheating at your institution? Learn more about Authorship Investigate.